The top Super Bowl ad this year by many accounts was the #BestBuds Budweiser ad that showed the relationship between an adorable puppy and some of the signature Budweiser Clydesdales. One of the top ads last year was a Budweiser ad that showed the strong relationship between a Clydesdale and his trainer. In fact, since 1986 the annual Budweiser Clydesdale Super Bowl ad is always highly rated, with some saying that Budweiser are the best ads each and every year.

The Clydesdale ads are entertaining and meaningful to people because of the emotion they engender. They represent the best of people, horses, dogs and country. They represent great advertising in terms of audience attention and liking. But do they “sell” a beer brand? To answer that question you have to understand signature stories and symbols and their role in brand building.

Signature stories are those that reflect the brand core values. The signature story should deliver meaning behind the brand vision that is compelling, involving, and authentic.

Brands that were born with a signature story or were able to develop one are challenged to keep the story alive. Too often, the story fades into the background because there is no way to keep it fresh and visible in the in the eyes and minds of the audience.

Budweiser has used the Clydesdales to create a signature story, and the Super Bowl ads play a key role in bringing the story to life in a fresh way year after year. The Clydesdales are a great example of how a symbol can be the vehicle to help create a story and to keep it alive.

The story really started in April 7, 1933, when a red, white and gold beer wagon was pulled by six Clydesdales (the teams now have eight horses) from the St. Louis brewer. The wagon contained the first case of post-Prohibition beer and celebrated the repeal of Prohibition. The Clydesdales and the wagon later delivered a case of beer to the former governor of New York, Al Smith who had led the repeal fight, and to President Roosevelt.

The Clydesdales themselves are part of the story. The breed was developed in Scotland as a powerful work animal for farmers and were known for their work ethic and heart. The Budweiser Clydesdales are the best of the output of a breeding farm and are impeccable in terms of appearance and spirit. They are thus a marvelous representative of the heritage of Budweiser, the Anheuser-Busch family and their commitment to quality. It is so much more effective to communicate heritage and quality through the Clydesdales than to talk about Beachwood aging or some other beer attribute.

Too often, a signature story struggles to be heard over time. Sometimes, it falls into the background or is even forgotten. Budweiser is a role model on how to keep the signature story alive. In addition to the Super Bowl ads, there are three hitch teams of ten horses (two are in reserve) that tour the world appearing in hundreds of events. For over 50 years, they were a fixture in the Tournament of Roses Parade.

The Clydesdales may not affect the sales of Budweiser in the short-term, but they are the basis of the brand vision and they bring the brand to life in a way that is memorable and inspiring.

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  1. Budweiser has certainly leveraged the story of their Clydesdales, but it’s worth noting that Carlton Breweries here on Oz use of that venerable equine hero predates Bud by 79 years